Suicide in Japan
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Suicide in Japan has become a significant national social issue. Japan has a relatively high suicide rate, but the number of suicides is declining and has been under 30,000 for 3 consecutive years. 71% of suicides in Japan were male, and it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20–44.
Factors in suicide include unemployment (due to the economic recession in the 1990s), depression, and social pressures. In 2007, the National Police Agency revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of 50 reasons with up to three reasons listed for each suicide. Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year.
In Japanese culture there is a long history of honorable suicide, such as ritual suicide by Samurai to avoid being captured, flying one's plane into the enemy during WWII, or charging into the enemy fearlessly to prevent bringing shame on one's family.
There has been a rapid increase in suicides since the 1990s. For example, 1998 saw a 34.7% increase over the previous year. This has prompted the Japanese government to react by increasing funding to treat the causes of suicide and those recovering from failed suicides.
Demographics and locations
Typically most suicides are men; over 71% of suicide victims in 2007 were male. In 2009, the number of suicides among men rose 641 to 23,472 (with those age 40–69 accounting for 40.8% of the total). Suicide was the leading cause of death among men age 20–44. Males are two times more likely to cause their own deaths after a divorce than females. Nevertheless, suicide is still the leading cause of death for women age 15–34 in Japan. (This statistic means less than it seems at first sight, since actuarial mortality from diseases is so low at that age.)
In 2009, the number of suicides rose 2 percent to 32,845 exceeding 30,000 for the twelfth straight year and equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people.
The most frequent location for suicides is in Aokigahara, a forested area at the base of Mount Fuji. In the period leading up to 1988, about 30 suicides occurred there every year. In 1999, 74 occurred, the record until 2002 when 78 suicides were found. That record was eclipsed the following year when 105 bodies were found in 2003, and again in 2004 when 108 people killed themselves there.  The area is patrolled by police looking for suicides, and altogether, police records show that 247 people made suicide attempts in the forest in 2010 — 54 of them successfully.
Ties with business
Historically, Japan has been a male-dominated society with strong family ties and correlating social expectations; however, the bursting of the bubble which brought about the death of the "jobs-for-life" culture has left these heads of families unexpectedly struggling with job insecurity or the stigma of unemployment. Japan's economy, the world's third-largest, experienced its worst recession since World War II in early 2009, propelling the nation's jobless rate to a record high of 5.7 percent in July 2009. The unemployed accounted for 57 percent of all suicides, the highest rate of any other occupation group. As a result of job losses, social inequality (as measured on the Gini coefficient) has also increased which has been shown in studies to have affected the suicide rates in Japan proportionately more than in other OECD countries.
A contributing factor to the suicide statistics among those who were employed was the increasing pressure of retaining jobs by putting in more hours of overtime and taking fewer holidays and sick days. According to government figures, "fatigue from work" and health problems, including work-related depression, were prime motives for suicides, adversely affecting the social wellbeing of salarymen and accounting for 47 percent of the suicides in 2008. Out of 2,207 work-related suicides in 2007, the most common reason (672 suicides) was overwork. (See Karōshi)
Furthermore, the void experienced after being forced to retire from the workplace is said to be partly responsible for the large number of elderly suicides every year. In response to these deaths, many companies, communities, and local governments have begun to offer activities and classes for recently retired senior citizens who are at risk of feeling isolated, lonely, and without purpose or identity.
Consumer loan companies have much to do with the suicide rate. The National Police Agency states that one fourth of all suicides are financially motivated. Many deaths every year are described as being inseki-jisatsu (引責自殺?, "responsibility-driven" suicides). Japanese banks set extremely tough conditions for loans, forcing borrowers to use relatives and friends as guarantors who become liable for the defaulted loans, producing extreme guilt and despair in the borrower. Rather than placing the burden on their guarantors, many have been attempting to take responsibility for their unpaid loans and outstanding debts through life insurance payouts. In fiscal year 2005, 17 consumer loan firms received a combined 4.3 billion yen in suicide policy payouts on 4,908 borrowers — or some 15 percent of the 32,552 suicides in 2005. Lawyers and other experts allege that, in some cases, collectors harass debtors to the point they take this route. Japanese nonbank lenders, starting in the mid-1990s, began taking out life insurance policies which include suicide payouts on borrowers that included suicide coverage, and borrowers are not required to be notified.
Cultural attitude toward suicide
Japanese society's attitude toward suicide has been termed "tolerant," and in many occasions suicide is seen as a morally responsible action. Public discussion of the high rate of suicide also focuses on blaming the economic hardship faced by middle-aged men (see sarakin). However, the rise of Internet suicide websites and the increasing rate of suicide pacts (shinjū) have raised concerns from the public and media, which consider the pacts "thoughtless."
In 1703, Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote a puppet play entitled Sonezaki Shinjuu (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), which was later re-engineered for the kabuki theater. The inspiration for the play was an actual double suicide which had recently occurred between two forbidden lovers. Several more "double suicide" plays followed which were eventually outlawed by the governing authorities for emboldening more couples to "romantically" end their lives.
During Japan's imperial years, suicide was common within the military. This included suicide when a battle was lost. The samurai way of glory was through death, and ritual suicide was seen as something honorable. Writer Yukio Mishima is famous for his ritual suicide while trespassing on the grounds of the Defense Agency headquarters in Ichigaya.
The cultural heritage of suicide as a noble tradition still has some resonance. While being investigated for an expenses scandal, Cabinet minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka took his life in 2007. The former governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, described him as a "true samurai" for preserving his honour. Ishihara is also the scriptwriter for the film I Go To Die For You which glorifies the memory and bravery of the kamikaze pilots in WWII.
In 2007, the government released a nine-step plan, a "counter-suicide White Paper," which it hopes will curb suicide by 20% by 2017. The goal of the White Paper is to encourage investigation of the root causes of suicide in order to prevent it, change cultural attitudes toward suicide, and improve treatment of unsuccessful suicides. In 2009, the Japanese government committed 15.8 billion yen towards suicide prevention strategies.
Japan has allotted 12.4 billion yen ($133 million) in suicide prevention assets for the 2010 fiscal year ending March 2011, with plans to fund public counseling for those with overwhelming debts and those needing treatment for depression.
Amid the overall increase in self-inflicted death for 2009, the government claims there have been encouraging signs since September. The Cabinet Office said the number of monthly suicides declined year-on-year between September 2009 and April 2010. According to preliminary figures compiled by the NPA, the number of suicides fell 9.0 percent from the year before.
- Japanese work environment
- Shame society
- Suicide Circle
- Demographics of Japan
- Etiquette in Japan
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